Maybe with all the suffering around us, it’s easier to feel compassion. I don’t think I’ve had a year when I felt more concerned about other people, to the point I pray more for them, have donated more to charitable organizations, and even started donating blood on a regular basis. I’m not bragging; I’m just happy I’ve felt more like doing these things. I’m at my best when I have that feeling of wanting to be helpful, and I tend to be happier with myself.

I am not, by nature, a very compassionate person. Left on my own, I can be judgmental, the opposite of compassionate. But I don’t want to be that kind of person. Thankfully, over the past twenty-plus years that I’ve been in recovery from substance use disorder, I’ve learned a few things. I’m better at recognizing my own negative attitudes and challenging them.

 It helps me to be around other compassionate people. I’m grateful I have such people in my life; my sister has natural compassion, as do many of my friends and my best friend of all, my fiancé. Spending time with these people helps change my outlook.

 Prayer helps change me. I ask for compassion each day on my way to work. I pray to be able to see people as my Higher Power sees people and to treat them accordingly. I also read books that help me cultivate compassion. Alternatively, focusing on negative content in my conversations and reading can dampen my mood and tip me into more pessimistic attitudes.

Compassion doesn’t always look warm and fuzzy. Sometimes true compassion leads to difficult conversations, odd as that sounds. It can even lead to conflict, if I don’t remember to be respectful. If I didn’t feel compassion for patients, I wouldn’t take pains to talk to them about their lives and their desires for change.

No one is compassionate all the time. I have my early warnings that I’m slipping back into old patterns of thinking. For example, when I start making sarcastic jokes at other people’s expense…not good. I can justify by saying I’m blowing off steam and I’m only joking, but as a close friend pointed out to me, sarcasm is “flesh-eating” humor. It can be damaging to the person who is the butt of the joke and corrosive to me.

When I start muttering negative things under my breath at work…not good.

So, what do I do when I start feeling negativity?

First, I don’t have to express it. Expression of negativity contaminates my workplace. It can make my home life feel heavy. I try to keep it to myself. It’s my issue and I don’t need to make it my co-workers, patients, or friends’ issues.

Next, I try to decide why I’m feeling what I’m feeling. Usually, it’s because I’ve decided other people aren’t acting like I want them to. I’ve slipped into a pattern of thinking that other people, organizations, politicians, whatever, need to conform to my ideas for them. Which brings up the real issue: such an attitude shows I haven’t accepted the basic truth that there are many things in the world that I can’t control and shouldn’t try to control.

When I can accept people as they are, while still being willing to extend myself towards them when they request help, I’m in a good place.

Compassion helps me do my job better. Patients wanting help are more likely to engage in treatment when they sense their helpers are rooting for their success, and willing to go an extra mile to help them. Patients sense these things; a helper who is just going through the motions doesn’t inspire patients effectively.

I started to write this blog thinking that compassion is a difficult subject; the blog post could end up being a self-serving treatise extolling my virtue of compassion. Or it could reveal how much I struggle with compassion because at heart, I’m not a very nice person. I hope this blog post has threaded the middle ground by presenting the message that we can feel and act with more compassion by practicing, like any other habit. We can also refuse to cultivate more negative personality traits, like negative thinking and speaking. I’m not saying we should ignore problems when we see them, but rather try to focus on solutions.

Anyway, I hope 2021 is a better year for all of us. May we all feel more compassion for ourselves and others, and struggle less with negativity.


9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jude DiMeglio Trang on January 3, 2021 at 9:48 pm

    Wonderful blog! And timely. The blog I just posted “Who Is My Neighbor?” is about compassion and looking for ways to serve others during these difficult times rather than serving our own families and friends. I just added a note and link to your blog on my blog: OPIATE NATION. Thank you for all you do to help in this other epidemic.


  2. Posted by Spencer Clark on January 4, 2021 at 3:32 am


    Thank you for sharing your humanity in such a thoughtful way.

    Best wishes in 2021,

    Spencer Clark



  3. Posted by on January 4, 2021 at 3:41 am

    A very nice writing Dr Janaburson.

    Kind regards 

    Chris Dover Australia 

    Sent from myMail for iOS

    Monday, 4 January 2021, 7:55 am +1100 from : >janaburson posted: ” > > > > > > > > >Maybe with all the suffering around us, it’s easier to feel compassion. I don’t think I’ve had a year when I felt more concerned about other people, to the point I pray more for them, have donated more to charitable organizations, and even starte” >


  4. Posted by Patrick R Grissom on January 4, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    Wonderful blog. It helps me understand myself at times when the compassion disappears. When you have been in this business as long as we have (20 years for me), sometimes burnout helps create it or some new regulation that encompasses or time away from what we need to do with the patient. i love your comment on being quiet with others. Thank you for you transparency.


  5. Posted by Charles Erickson on January 4, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    Dr. Burson, your comments reflect my feelings as well. Even though you are a physician, we are both human and equal under God. I see a doctor for my Sublocade, and I have known him for a long time and I consider him a friend. I am in a 12-step recovery program as well, and I struggle with judgmentalism myself. All the time. If I was left to my own devices I would despise about half of the world and I would judge everyone mercilessly. Thank you for your post, it makes me feel like I am not so different.


  6. Thank you for being willing to be vulnerable and open to sharing your experiences, struggles and solutions. I am right there, too. I find compassion (for self and others) softens me and strengthens me, but I have to keep reaching for it. It’s worth the effort.
    To quote Ram Dass, “We’re all just walking each other home.”
    Happy New Year.
    Tricia Odham


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